Integrated cable car system


In March 2019, the German city of Cologne decided to investigate the “Rheinpendel” project – an urban cable car to form a zigzag connection between districts on both sides of the river Rhine (see SI Urban 2/2019). Inspired by this, start-up company URBAN NETWAYS has substantially developed the idea over the past year. Photos: Urban Netways

The result is spectacular: the “Rheinpendel Express” is an integrated cable car system that allows individual journeys via fast junctions and intersections. In a network of multiple stations, people can always take the direct route connection in their gondola to their destination – with no stops or transfers.


Here, an algorithm programmed specifically for this controls the routes and optimal use of gondola capacities. Thus, according to simulations to date, journey times can be reduced by up to 50 percent compared with the linear cable car system and frequent transfers are no longer necessary. The network also requires a significantly smaller number of cables and gondolas.


According to enquiries to date as well as discussions with representatives of transport science and cable car manufacturers, the hardware for such an innovative concept and all the technical basics for an IT system are available. However, the combination of gondolas, junctions and innovative control technology is so far a globally unique concept with huge potential for Cologne – as well as for other cities in which cable car projects are being discussed (currently such as Berlin and Bonn).

“Cable cars offer ideal conditions for integrated, more individual, local public transport,” developer Fabian Weber says. As such, the system allows shorter journeys with no stops or transfers – directly from starting station to destination station.


(The longer the distance, the more time is saved.) The intersections create more direct routes. There are stations in all directions (for a growing transport network) and more flexible planning of cable routes for more conflict-free integration into the urban landscape.

Moreover, the investments in fast junction switching and in the IT system are cost-neutral, as fewer cable lengths and supports are required (fewer diversions). Smaller stations still have only one boarding and alighting area for both directions. It is therefore possible to transport the same number of passengers using fewer vehicles (owing to faster arrival and demand-based deployment).

The intersections are the centrepiece of the innovative concept. With fast junctions, these allow a network of individually routed gondolas. Before vehicles start, a pre-arranged route plan and associated cable allocation ensure direct transfer when they arrive at junctions and that minimum distances are maintained.



Alighting should be as easy as possible for passengers. Using an app or machine, passengers select their destination, pay the fare and wait for the boarding call or announcement. They then scan their ticket/app at the entrance before boarding their gondola and – in the ideal case – reaching their destination directly with stops.


To achieve this, the stations are equipped with destination selection and ticket machines, boarding and waiting time displays as well as express check-in (by means of ticket scanning). Two separate entrances (with exit) and an additional exit prevent collisions between passengers. Boarding numbers, waiting times and queues at the entrance are needed only in the case of higher passenger numbers than the specified gondola capacities, to guarantee even distribution. “Only at peak times are passengers for the same direction but different destinations transported together in one gondola,” Weber says.


Using fast junctions, stations can be implemented with a transit area. As urban areas often offer little space for additional buildings, terminal stations and mid-stations with only one boarding and alighting area seem particularly attractive. Through integration, stations can be designed flexibly, so that appropriate stations can be constructed depending on local conditions. They can be planned on one or more levels and conceived from the outset to be extendable for subsequent network expansion.

The allocation of passengers to vehicles, the routes of the vehicles and the reservation of junctions are controlled by an IT system – which already works in simulations – with algorithms and a database. It receives information about vehicle locations vehicles as well as passenger details and after calculating the most efficient results, it transmits them to the cable car system, waiting passengers and staff.


Until completion of the IT infrastructure and in the event of technical problems, the cable car system can also work in linear mode with all stops and transfer points.

Alternative Wege

In places with a smaller route network or in a pilot phase, advantages of integrated systems can also be implemented without an IT system, with no electronic destination selection and gondola allocation before departure, such as with a cable car system in which e.g. every second gondola branches off or where the system bypasses mid-stations (request stop button).


As well as people, goods can also be transported from and to stations cost-effectively and quickly in a way that saves resources. Empty runs are therefore filled, the existing system is used optimally and road traffic is eased. ts